Why Are So Many Languages Dying Out?

Endangered vernaculars have been dying out at unprecedented rates since the 1960s. Invariably, they give way to one of the world’s more dominant languages such as Arabic, English, Mandarin or Spanish. Now, more than 40 percent of the world’s 7,000 or so languages are thought to be at risk of extinction, some with just a handful of elderly native speakers left.

“This isn’t a normal or stable flux,” says Anna Belew, outreach coordinator at the Endangered Languages Project, which seeks to support efforts to sustain endangered languages. “What we’re looking at is a mass-extinction event.” Out of the roughly 700 languages that are known to have fallen silent in all of human history, more than 30 percent have gone extinct at some point during the last 60 years.

Read more: Discover Magazine

Brexit may threaten the many minority languages of Britain

The Cornish language has come back from the dead. Once officially branded “extinct” by the UN, the language, spoken primarily in Cornwall in Southwest England, was upgraded to “endangered” in 2010.

Cornish may have come back, but its situation remains precarious. Ethnologue, a research project that catalogs the world’s languages, says that there are “no known” speakers of Cornish as a first language, though it mentions an “emerging” population of second-language speakers.

Now, advocates of minority languages in the UK and Europe are warning that a British exit from the EU, or “Brexit,” could remove what little support Cornish and its linguistic counterparts already have. Voters in Britain go to the polls tomorrow (June 23) to decide whether to remain or leave the EU.

“The indirect effect of Brexit on our languages is potentially disastrous,” reads a joint letter signed by representatives of various minority languages in the UK, including Welsh, Scots, Irish, and Cornish. The letter is backed by the European Language Equality Network, a non-profit group that campaigns to protect Europe’s less-spoken languages.

Read more: Quartz

The Sardinian professor fighting to save Gaelic – and all Europe’s minority tongues

It is an impending extinction that will change the world and how people communicate: within 20 years, half of all the planet’s languages will be dead.

Experts agree that nothing can stop it happening but one academic is trying her hardest to slow it down, to help preserve what may be part of a golden ticket for our brains. Professor Antonella Sorace – a Sardinian who was discouraged from learning her own dying language in favour of “proper” Italian – is one of a growing number who believe learning a second language has enormous untapped benefits for the human brain. This is true not only for young children but also for adults and people at risk from dementia, where research consistently shows that learning a new language could delay the onset of the disease for four to five years – a better result than with any medication to date.

Read more: The Guardian